Only director Lynch knows where his 'Lost Highway' is going

March 07, 1997|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

"Lost Highway," as a title, doesn't tell the half of it. What about "Totally Lost, Maybe Going Nowhere, Maybe Not Even on a Map, Maybe Not Even on this Planet, Highway"?

This grueling (2 hours and 15 minutes) excursion into the gifted but anti-logical mind of David "Blue Velvet" Lynch is not for those of us of the it's-got-to-make-sense tribe. Lynch is our enemy.

What's so infuriating about him is his local talent as opposed to his global anti-talent. By that I mean he's capable of engineering brilliant, spooky scenes where everything makes sense, from character to motive to consequence, with unsettlingly intense power. Your synapses are skittering off so violently you think you're in for something special. But when he arranges them into the larger compositional unit called "a story" they just self-destruct before your very baffled eyes.

This movie, for example, has the strangest twist I've seen in a long time, if ever; it cannot begin to be fathomed by mortal minds, but demands cool Martian intelligences to examine it through 7-foot lenses and consider it for centuries.

Bill Pullman is Fred Madison, an L.A. jazz saxophonist living comfortably in a house in the Hollywood Hills with his devoted wife Renee (Patricia Arquette). Suddenly, however, "odd things" begin happening: Video tapes of their house are mysteriously found on the front walk, each more intimate and penetrative of their life than the last. Then, at a party of fast-track tinsel types, Pullman meets a geeky little guy, played by Robert Blake in eyeliner, who makes disturbing comments and stares at him with blinkless eyes. Blake is so creepy he makes the hackles on the back of your neck dance like the Radio City Rockettes.

Then one morning Pullman wakes up with hideous memories of dismembering his wife (Lynch of course shows us the dismemberment in grisly detail); suddenly the cops arrive and in a very short time (a 30-second montage), he's on death row. But then he wakes up the morning after that, and he's someone else.

Now, he's auto mechanic Pete Dayton (I love the banality of the names), played by Balthazar Getty. Clearly, Pete Dayton didn't kill the woman, so the cops have to let him go, while wondering (but not too hard) about what happened to Fred Madison.

Thus story No. 2 begins, as if Story No. 1 either didn't exist, or existed in a parallel world somewhere or Lynch and co-writer Barry Gifford wrote two scripts but the secretary got them mixed up. Anyway, in Story No. 2, Pete is romanced by a gangster's moll (Arquette, this time under a wig so blond it could start a fire, or a bad dream of lost possibilities) while being mentored by the foul-mouthed, bad-tempered gangster Mr. Eddie (Robert Loggia). Yet there are odd "leaks" between the stories: For example, Pete hears Fred's sax on the radio and gets a splitting headache.

Then figures from story No. 1 begin to move into story No. 2: It turns out that Mr. Eddie also knows geek Blake, evidently a figure on the underground Hollywood-occult-porn circuit. The figures meld, twist, permute. What place is this? Where are we now?

I suppose it would be a disappointment, in the larger sense, if Lynch had some answers. In his whole career, he's never had any answers. That's his thing: inscrutability without answers. You want answers, call Princeton.

The movie is cold, sensual, convincing in its smaller details, but completely nuts. It's for graduate students in advanced Lynchiana; all others are advised to steer clear.

'Lost Highway'

Starring Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette and Balthazar Getty

Directed by David Lynch

Released by October Films

Rated R (sexual material, violence, nudity)

Sun score**

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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